LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the thick of a pennant race because they've been thriving in pressure situations. Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Joe Beimel are perfect examples.
Kemp had three RBI, including a tiebreaking two-run homer off John Smoltz, and first-time All-Star Russell Martin had a career-high four hits to lead the Dodgers over the Atlanta Braves 8-2 on Monday night.
Martin hit a game-tying RBI double and singled home another run during a five-run seventh, extended his hitting streak to 12 games and raising his average with runners in scoring position to .345.
"I don't know why," Martin said. "It just seems like when there's a pressure situation, my adrenaline level gets up. It gives me a little energy boost, and maybe I concentrate and focus a little bit more with guys in scoring position. I just wish I could have that same approach every time I'm hitting."
Derek Lowe and Smoltz (9-5) were in a duel through five innings, with the score 1-1. Lowe, who threw 104 pitches, left after the Braves opened the sixth with singles by Chipper and Andruw Jones.
Beimel (2-1) struck out Kelly Johnson after loading the bases with a one-out intentional walk to Jeff Francoeur, then retired pinch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a groundout -- thanks to a diving stop in the hole by second baseman Jeff Kent.
Beimel, who pitched two hitless innings for the win, has allowed only two of his 25 inherited runners to score.
"That's something you don't really think about when you're out there. You just want to get the job done," said Beimel, who turned Chipper Jones' comebacker into an inning-ending double play in the seventh. "I just want to come in and leave those guys there and keep those runs from being charged to Derek."
Kemp put the Dodgers ahead 3-1 with a drive to left field that was caught on the bullpen mound by Chin-hui Tsao, an estimated 436 feet from home plate. It came after James Loney swung at a third strike with two outs and reached first base as the ball got away from Brian McCann.
"Before Loney got up to hit, I told him, `Get on base and I'm going to drive you in.' And he found a way to get on base, and I drove him in," Kemp said. "Smoltz makes smart pitches at the right time, but I guess that one just caught too much of the plate and I put a good swing on it."
Smoltz criticized himself for throwing a fastball to Kemp.
"I didn't make a very good pitch to Kemp with two outs and it ultimately cost us the game," Smoltz said. "I could have thrown another pitch. That's like the third game this year where I'm one pitch away from coming out possibly winning and end up losing. Baseball can be brutal."
Lowe gave up one run and eight hits in five-plus innings, struck out five and walked none. Smoltz, headed to his eighth All-Star game next week, gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings and struck out six.
Atlanta opened the scoring in the second with an RBI single by Edgar Renteria that fell just in front of center fielder Juan Pierre. When Lowe got back to the dugout, he threw his glove against the wall and then tossed a bucket toward the dugout steps before going to the far end of the bench to sit and cool off next to a large electric fan.
"He's a competitor and he takes pitching seriously," Kent said. "He walks around here two hours before the game all amped up and ready to go. He would wish the game would start at 4 o'clock instead of 7, and that's the kind of guy you want to pitch. We're winning games and Derek is a big part of that. He keeps the rhythm of the game up, and he puts us in a situation to win -- like we did tonight."
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, whose 131st career ejection on June 23 tied John McGraw's major league record, had a beef with first base umpire James Hoye in the second inning. Kemp hit a potential inning-ending double-play grounder to third and was called safe, beating the relay from Johnson at second. But the argument was brief, and Cox stayed in the game.
"There were a couple of games last week that we thought it was going to happen," Francoeur said. "It's been a while now. I think the umpires are getting scared now because they don't want to be the guy that tosses him for the record-breaker. But it's going to happen sooner or later. It's just a way for him to show his players that he's behind them all the time. And that's great. I don't think there's any player who's played for him that won't say he's always had their back."
Smoltz and Lowe both have had seasons of 20 wins and 40 saves. The only other player in big league history to accomplish that feat is Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. ... The Braves have been outscored 22-4 in Smoltz's five losses -- totaling one run during the 32 2/3 combined innings while he was on the mound. However, two of his wins were 14-0 and 13-0. ... Cox said RHP Buddy Carlyle, whose start on Sunday at Florida was shortened to 38 pitches over three innings because of a 1½-hour rain delay, will not come back on short rest to make his next start.